10 March 2006

The World's Cyber Swap Meet

We work, learn and play on the Internet. A recent Hagerty customer survey showed that collectors increasingly turn to the Internet to buy and sell cars and parts. A substantial 18.3 percent of respondents who purchased a car during the past 12 months reported buying through eBay, while 16.6 percent sold cars through the web auction giant. When it came to buying parts, collectors were far more reliant on the Internet. A full 40 percent of respondents found the Internet to be the most reliable parts source – split evenly between those who used eBay and collectors who favored other sites.  

Why is the Internet so popular? Classifieds are restricted by publication schedules, and it’s expensive to attend flea markets that can be rained out in a flash. Many hobbyists agree with designer and collector Raffi Minasian, who uses the Internet extensively but contends that “browsing at swaps is best. But I’m getting tired of license plate frames, cooking tools and die cast models . . . not enough of the good old stuff to justify wandering in the sun for hours.” 

The allure for shopping online, according to collector Frank Allocca, is: “With the Internet you can go all over the world and get a broad spectrum.” Plus, he comments: “I’d rather be on the Internet than watching TV.” Motoring journalist and enthusiast Ken Gross – who collects vintage speed equipment – goes online because “the things I’m buying I simply can’t find anywhere else.” Restorer and historian Randy Ema echoes Gross’ comments:

“Sometimes it’s the only place you can find it.” 

Gross uses the Internet frequently, but still likes to attend flea markets, while Allocca favors searching for parts with dry feet from home. Neither have had any problems with their many online purchases and will continue to cyber shop for a variety of items. Andy Jeffrey favors the Internet above all other media for buying and selling. As Director of Development for the LarzAndersonAutoMuseum, his job is to sell donated vehicles and find parts for the museum’s cars. As he explains: “we buy online to save time; it’s the easiest way to track down even the hardest to find parts.”  

As the statistics show, collectors and enthusiasts have been quick to embrace buying parts online, but have been slower to buy cars. Thousands of cars are sold on eBay and other Websites, but with something as expensive to buy and ship, people tend to be more cautious. Most collectors can risk a $100 purchase of something they’ve never seen, but hesitate to spend thousands on a car that they’ve only seen on a 15-inch screen. Both Allocca and Jeffrey have made many parts deals through eBay but are more hesitant when it comes to vehicles. People are more likely to buy a car online if they already know the particular vehicle, can view it or have someone they trust inspect it.  

The rise of the Internet doesn’t necessarily mean the fall of the swap meet or classifieds like those found in Hemmings Motor News. Ken Gross theorizes that the new generation of collectors is more computer literate than many of the people vending at flea markets. As long as an older generation of enthusiasts is still out there, he reckons meets like Carlisle and Hershey are safe. Gross “still loves going to flea markets. The idea that you suddenly see something and can feel it is important to me. But both flea markets and eBay work.” Randy Ema also prefers the swap meet, but feels he often has no choice: “I can go to Hershey and maybe find it. I’d rather do it in person, but I have no options [but to go online].” 

Many collectors and restorers just go where the parts and cars are, whether they’re on eBay, Hemmings.com, Prewarcar.com, at a swap meet or advertised in a club newsletter with a dealer or in Hemmings Motor News. Anyone who’s ever gone to the AACA’s fall meet at Hershey doesn’t just go for parts – it’s all about seeing old friends. And you can’t share dinner with an old buddy when you’re sending e-mail from 2,000 miles away. 

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